Sunday, December 8, 2013

First episode of "Read Write!"

I hope you enjoy this very first episode of "Read Write!" that I produced. The sound is a bit off, but I'm looking for a new video editing program so the next one won't be so terrible. In the meantime, please enjoy the News Bits, Quick Read, What are You Reading?, and Conversations segments.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thoughts on a high-coverage tragedy, and the choices we make

Today's post is off-topic with regards to reading, writing, and communication in general.

I was sad to hear on Saturday (Nov. 30) that actor Paul Walker, famous for his role in the Fast & Furious movie franchise, died in (perhaps not so ironically) a violent car crash. He and a friend, who was the driver, were speeding in a Porche Carrera down a street with a "reputation for fast drivers" before crashing the vehicle into a light post, splitting it in half and bursting into flames. Paul Walker and Roger Rodas were pronounced dead at the scene.

First of all, there were a number of people (on Facebook) who believed Roger Rodas was a forgotten victim and made sure his memory was not lost in the shadow of his friend. Rodas was a racing enthusiast who founded his own company, Always Evolving, in Los Angeles and ran his own professional racing team. He was also a generous man who started his own charity to help people in his native El Salvadore, before he teamed up with Walker to create Reach Out WorldWide. He made a difference in people's lives, so yes, he should be remembered.

Second, there is no question that both of these men knew the technical and mental merits of racing. Their bread and butter depended on that knowledge. I have no doubt in my mind that both driver and passenger engaged in the act of speeding willfully. Yes, it was a stupid thing to do - illegal and dangerous. It is not my place to condemn these men for a poor choice. We all make them. But it breaks my heart when people make poor choices with little regard for consequences. These men were professionals. They did not expect to lose control of the vehicle and crash. But they must have known the Porche's reputation of being difficult to handle. The temptation must have been too great. Just a little burn out won't hurt...We'll just see how fast it takes to get to sixty...This is a perfect straight shot.

A poor choice took these men's lives far too early. And I cry. I didn't know them, except "by association" with Walker for having seen the F&F movies. But I cry because it brings back memories of people I DID know who also made poor choices, and lost their lives in the process. I'm flooded with long forgotten pain.

I lost a friend and classmate shortly after graduating from high school. Lee was a quiet guy who loved big trucks, just like me. His yellow 80's Toyota pickup towered over most of the cars in the school parking lot. We hung out with the same crowd and enjoyed the "cruising scene" like most teenagers did back then. I grew up around big trucks, and there was a time when we could take the big trucks to the beach and park them on the sand. But by high school, that wasn't allowed anymore. One day, Lee, his brother, and their friends and girlfriends went to the beach. Lee took his truck onto the sand and, for whatever reason, decided to drive the truck up and down the beach. He had passengers with him. I wasn't there, but stories go he was doing brake stands and donuts when suddenly, the truck flipped over. The passengers survived, but Lee did not. Stupid choice, and all it takes is one. What killed me most was, knowing Lee, I never would have expected him to make that kind of choice.

David was 22 when he made a poor choice that took his life. I remember him as a kid hanging out at his grandparents' dealership. My husband (boyfriend at the time) taught him how to detail cars. He grew up around cars, Hondas especially. He also developed a taste for street bikes in high school. One day, David was pulling stunts on a busy street when he started speeding through an intersection and collided with another vehicle. He died at the scene. He left behind a son who, if I recall, hadn't reached a year old. A poor choice that robbed his life and the opportunity of a son to know his dad.

I didn't know this young man long enough to have his name burned into my memory, but I remember his enthusiasm for gaming and anime. I met him as a Gaming Sponsor for a local anime convention I helped with. Microsoft had just come out with the Xbox, and a young representative was happy to show a captive audience of anime otaku what it could do. This one, I want to call him "Tats" for some reason (but I don't think that was his name), always had a smile on his face and was so easy to work with. He and a colleague would always check in during the pre-event process to make sure all the "i"'s were dotted and "t"'s crossed. Whatever they could do to make it easy for the convention to accommodate them, they did. And "Tats" was my main contact. Always greeting on the phone or in person with a happy smile in his voice. One day, he never answered an email. I called and left a message. Finally, I contacted his colleague, and that was when I heard the news. He died in a single-car accident, he had been speeding down a busy road and lost control. A poor choice that could have killed someone in addition to himself. There were "circumstances" that I vaguely remember which contributed to the accident, but the point is he made a choice. And it killed him in his twenties.

Everyone makes poor choices, and we make them without thought to consequence. But we never ever make choices thinking that it will be our last, a choice that gets remembered as "One day...". (Unless you're purposely trying to kill yourself, but that would be a most poor choice.) I write this in hopes that whoever reads it will take more time to contemplate their choices, even if only for a second longer than usual. It may save you from embarrassment, it may save you from losing something important, it may save your life. Poor choices will still be made, but my hope is that you will live to learn from them.

After writing down these painful memories, I feel very tired. But I just felt the need to remember them and acknowledge that they had lived, like some people felt Rodas needed to be acknowledged and remembered.  These people were not famous, and many of you who read this will never know who they are. But I will remember. And therefore they live on.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I have a problem with Christmas encroaching on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is just as important a holiday because you spend it with family and reflect on what you have to be thankful for - loving family, good friends, a place to live, a working vehicle; people, places and things that make you happy.

My family spent Thanksgiving being thankful for many things, and then enjoyed a marvelous feast that we are still enjoying in various leftover reincarnations. I did not bow down to over-hyped commercialism and shop on Thanksgiving, nor did I bother battling an army of rude shoppers on "black Friday." I shopped the weekend before, and (with the exception of a few people) have only wrapping left. What we did do as a family was visit a local zoo for the zoo-lights. It is amazing what a multitude of colored lights, creativity and a good amount of patience can create. I then had an author signing on the 30th, and I thank the patrons who stopped in to support my work and have a conversation with me.

And now it is December. Now it is time to think about Christmas and the upcoming new year. Yes, there is the matter of gifts and greeting cards and decorations the other pleasantries that go with the holidays. But I also have to think about deadlines and marketing strategies and writing-writing-writing. My Christmas gift to readers is my writing, and I am working hard to have new stories to share in the New Year.

In the meantime, for those of you who have not yet read Circles or would like to give it as a gift, Starting Saturday, December 7 until Christmas Day, the Kindle version of my novel will be available for $2.99. Unfortunately, Amazon will not allow me to offer the paperback version for a sale price, but anyone who wishes to purchase a physical copy instead, send me an email with your name and address and I will mail you (or the person receiving the book) a personal note that can stand in for an autographed copy.

I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Here is a taste of what you will receive when you review Circles

I know more than three people have read my book, so I'm just a little sad that only three people chose to review it. I need your help to get my book out in front of other enthusiastic readers like you! You gave my book a chance, a self-published piece by an unknown author. And most of you enjoyed it, some thought it was ok, and a few thought it was not their cup of tea. And that's awesome!! Good or bad, other potential readers need to hear your thoughts to help them decide to also take a chance on Circles.

So I am working hard in between two other projects to provide my readers with an incentive to review! Below is an excerpt of content EXCLUSIVE to reviewers. Once its complete, anyone who has reviewed Circles and posted a link to it here or on the Circles Google+ page, or tweeted about it using hashtag #CirclesNovel will receive a short story that may or may not be a part of an accompanying novel to the world of Solus and Caisey! I hope everyone will take me up on my offer!

 Solus felt as if he were dragged through fire, ice and steel arrows. He imagined his skin flayed from his bones and then those very bones shattered into a million pieces. The pain was beyond enduring as he watched his own body disintegrate until the only thing left was a translucent cloud – vaguely human-shaped – floating above an empty floor. He waited for even this ethereal form to be stripped from him, too.

But then a new body began to form around his clouded shape. It solidified into a torso, arms, and legs, but bent in strange angles, almost like an animal, with a wide chest and tapered waist, long arms that ended with long fingers topped with claws, and knees that bent the wrong way. His face burned with an intense pain. He felt heavy eyelids forming, covering his sight. He felt his teeth bursting from his gums and when he tried to close his mouth, he felt what must be his lips being ripped by knives. The same burning sensation moved to his back. His newly-formed skin ripped away as something exploded out from near his upper spine. 

He felt his bones forming, reforming, as if his body were trying out a form then, rejecting it, scrambled what it had done and started over. Solus thought he was screaming, but he heard no sound come from his throat. Rather, he felt a vibrating sensation that started low and began to gain momentum. When his ears finally stopped burning, he realized the vibration was an unearthly howl. Unable to handle the pain any longer, he dropped to the ground, feeling the weight of his new form. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Media Use Survey Shows How Mobile Children Have Become

I read the results of an interesting survey done by Common Sense Media about media use in children up to age 8.  As the mother of an 8-year-old, I wanted to know how digital media access was changing for him. I wrote about the findings here and you can download the full results from Common Sense Media's site.

What I found is that my son has more access to mobile media now than he did two years ago. I also found that he spends less than the average child using mobile media and he spends less time watching television programming. But thanks to Minecraft, he spends more time on the computer and less time overall using educational apps. Ugh.

But muddled in all the numbers, there was another interesting tidbit. Despite an increase in access to tablet devices and smartphones, reading using an electronic device is still not as common an activity as, say, playing a game. Apparently, kids would still rather read a book in print, according to this study. Only 4% of the 60% who read or are read to every day do so on a mobile device.

eReaders are great, and it makes vacation reading a heck of a lot more portable. But it seems even kids know that nothing beats a book in print. On average, children were reading (or read to) about a half hour each day. But that was only 60% of the children surveyed. Forty percent read less than that, if at all. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read to your child. It not only provides an early boost to language development and reading skills, but it also gives parents a unique opportunity to bond with your child: books are a doorway into your world. What you read and how you read imparts how you see the world around you and when your child gets older, will choose books (or not) and see the world in a similar way.

In our increasingly mobile world, portable entertainment is what kids are after and education advocates are trying to keep up with "apps for that." I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more educational style games from places like Jumpstart and PBS Kids. In another two years, when more kids have access to mobile devices, there will be more "good" fun games to keep little ones occupied. But I hope these devices do not overtake the need to read!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

An 8-Year-Old's Take on Violence and Video Games.

Saw this article on Kotaku that appeared in my FB feed about a 9-year-old boy arrested for bringing weapons to school. I decided to go to the source article and had my 8-year-old sit with me as I read it. Then we had a discussion about good and bad choices. Then I asked him, "Do you think the video game he played is the reason why he made a bad choice?" His answer was "Yes...because he was playing a game that wasn't his level."

Then I showed him the video of the newscast where they name the evil video game - Minecraft. After the short news story, I asked him, "So, is Minecraft too much for a 9-year-old?" "No, because I play it," he responded, "and I know that bringing things like that to school will get me in trouble." I asked him if he thought the game was violent, and he said no because he mostly builds stuff and sometimes he has to fight off zombies. "That boy wasn't taught about what is real and fake." he concluded.

First of all, as nervous as I was to have this conversation about video games with him, he responded with some very thoughtful conclusions. He understood that games were meant for people who could handle the "level" of play. He understood that there was a difference between reality and fantasy, and that this child - although older than him - did not appear to have that sense of differentiation. And he understood that bad choices have consequences.

We can blame video games for violence in our society until we're blue in the face. Just recently a young man was arrested for "re-enacting Grand Theft Auto." But really, was it the game that caused him to do it, or a disturbed mind that could not separate fake and real, choices and consequences. He should not have played the game because he "wasn't ready" for that level mentally, but the game itself did not MAKE him do anything. The bottom line, as my young son illuminated, comes down to whether a person can understand reality. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Jeepney is a WHAT?

I pinned a few images of jeepneys on my Pintrest Inspirations board this morning because I needed to be inspired. The opening scene of my current novel in progress features a Jeepney of sorts and I needed to describe it in a way that a goodly portion of readers, who have never seen (let alone heard of) this vehicle, would be able to imagine this contraption without having to stop reading to hunt down a Google image of one.

I don't want my description to be to wordy, but it takes so many words to describe such a colorful and distinctly Filipino work of mobile art. And since I am writing for a younger audience, I do not want to bore my 8 to 12 year-old readers with description. Action is the attention grabber, so how do I turn a mass of colors on wheels into action?

The answer I was led to was to go ahead and describe it the best way I could, then post it here in hopes that people would read it, hopefully share it with kids they know, and then tell me - does it work? Post your comments or send me an email with your thoughts...

"Finally, he heard the familiar chugging of steam coming around the turn. The steam bus sounded like a train and looked like a Filipino Jeepney; a military vehicle that got rear-ended by a panel truck and the sides popped out. Its bright red body bore the scars of a paint war, the bold yellow and black letters screaming the bus route clashing with random images of cane fields and familiar buildings where the bus would stop. Its scalloped yellow roof carried just as colorful bundles belonging to the passengers already on board.  Kai could see the people through the large open windows. As it came to stop in front of the shelter, the iron stack on the side of the cab belched a large white cloud of steam."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

An old musing that I still think about when I run out of rice

About two years ago, I had a moment where I was running out of rice. And from that moment, memories came forward of my childhood, and I had this need to write my thoughts down. Well, today I looked in my tin container of rice and saw that I was running low, which once again brought up thoughts of growing up. So I dug up this personal musing and decided to share it.

"As with any Asian household, rice is the staple of just about every meal. And I'm running out. This brings me to today's musing.

Growing up, my grandmother had a large, possibly 10 gallon, round steel storage container. Since we lived near the ocean, she had wrapped the container in wall paper to keep it from rusting. Quite ingenious really. Anyway, she used this container to store the rice in. We would buy a 50lb bag at the grocery store and she would open the bag up and dump it right into the container whenever it got too low. It sat in the corner of our small kitchen/dinning room near the sink, and whenever we needed a fresh pot of rice Grandma would scoop some amount out and put it into the rice cooker.

Looking at my own tiny container of rice dwindling down to possibly another seven or eight scoops more, I remember Grandma's big container, and I smile. My container was once a holiday tin for cookies, the Costco-sized ones. It's got nothing on Grandma's rice holder; I barely fit half of a 20lb bag in it. But as I stare at it, I hear the sounds of Grandma's kitchen - busily cooking whatever regional masterpiece she had the ingredients for that day. And of course there was always the smell of steamed rice. As I look at my poor excuse for a rice container, I remember that I miss Grandma.

I also remember that I miss where I grew up. And that is where writer's block set in. Since my own son is growing up in what is essentially a foreign land to me (The "mainland" is definitely nothing like Hawaii), I wanted to write down memories of my childhood growing up in what was once a plantation town. Call it a memoir or whatever, it was supposed to be a simple collection of stories that he could read when he got older.

But I'm finding that it is very hard to put your childhood memories down on paper.  Or on a screen.  However one chooses to write these days.  It's not because I don't remember; it's because I do remember, and it is sometimes difficult to translate memory to word and still include all the emotion that comes with it.  How do I retell a story about a simple rice container - why it was important and why it should evoke certain feelings?  What I just wrote is sorely inadequate, because i can not truly convey the reason I am now crying as I think about it.  Yes, I miss Grandma, but my son did not know her.  Yes I miss my childhood home, but it is different now, and all I have left are descriptions of a past that holds no meaning to one who has never been there.

I could make correlations.  I could relate the story in ways my son could understand, but then the story would no longer be about that container of rice.  I have read many works by authors who give their memoirs the life I am trying to give my own words.  But it is not easy for me.  Perhaps it was not easy for them either.  Well, I will just have to see if I can get past my block and write my experiences so that my own son can experience them with me."

Well, I never did finish that collection of stories for my son. But I am hoping that my new novel, which takes place in a very different Hawaii, will at least convey the emotional aspect of my memories of home...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

When I Am Not Me...

It has been a while since I wrote anything, and I apologize since I did have things to share!

When I want to take a break from writing, I like to pass the time gaming. I discovered a game through Facebook that I enjoy. It is slightly time-consuming, as in order to level your player you must perform actions such as building your city or attacking areas - and these can take hours. But there are many interesting people that also play, and the conversations can be quite entertaining and something to do while you wait for an action to finish.

As I immersed myself in the online lives of the other players in this game, something peculiar happened. Certain regular players began to react to me differently, referring to me as an "alt." For those of you not familiar with gaming, an "alt" is an alternate character that you can play as. One player can have many "alts" depending on how he or she wishes to play the game. So, back to the story, I am faced with the realization that other players think that I am someone else.

Imagine for a moment that you are speaking with a group of people who think they know you - are CERTAIN they know you. You ask a question about game play and they brush you off because you (the person you are not) should already know the answer. You comment on someone's statement or question and another responds in a way that implies an "inner joke" that you (the person you are not) should get. It can be quite disconcerting let me assure you.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to meet the person that I was not. The two of us certainly did share a lot in common and as we talked it became understandable how we would be mistaken for one person. The one major difference was that the other person had much more experience playing this game than I did.

We tried to convince the other regulars that we were in fact two different people, but to no avail. After a while we resigned ourselves to the fact that my character was an "alt" no matter what we said. This has some advantages in that the other player is highly regarded and others would think twice before attacking my city, and I am treated respectfully for the most part during chat (except when I'm trying to get answers). But it brings up a strange predicament: by being myself I become another person, so should I change myself to be myself?

Odd question, but it makes sense. In the online world you can be anyone you want to be - a girl can be a boy, a privileged college graduate can be a homeboy from the mean streets, a middle-age homemaker can be 18 years old again. But what happens when you want to be you, but "you" already belong to someone else's online persona?

The online world has made us schizophrenic. You could talk to twenty people online and six of them are the same person using different "alts." Who the person is becomes lost. Or in my case, who I am becomes appropriated by another. So in effect "I" do not exist.  That is a scary thought. In this game, I am online. I am playing and conversing and making game play decisions. But to others, it is not me. I am not there. The other player is there making my moves, speaking through my keyboard. My personality - my "me-ness" is lost.

So, I have two choices: accept that my character belongs to someone else in the eyes of others and roll with it, or create an alt of my own with an entirely different personality and hope that it doesn't get appropriated either. I chose to roll with it, because making a new character is just too much effort. I am not schizophrenic, yet. Although as a writer, one should have some multiple personalities running around or the characters would not be very believable. But until I decide I do want to be someone else, I will enjoy my game and my online "friends" and be the "me" that I really am...even if that "me" is not me...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reading For Children and the Importance of a Good Editor

Now that I am helping moderate a couple of book clubs at the elementary school, I find myself reading more juvenile and young adult books. So far, I have come to the conclusion that these books have more thought-provoking themes than the adult novels. Or maybe not more, but rather better. Perhaps it is because young readers are still learning how to read for author intent, but I find it very enjoyable that the points children's authors are trying to get across are plain to see. In fact, it makes reading even more fun because I don't have to search for the deeper meaning that is most often hidden in the subtext.

But of course, as an English major and avid reader, I cannot help to nit-pick at times. Which is what I did with When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, by Canadian author Jennifer Maruno. I'm sure most young readers, if they caught the editing mistakes at all, wouldn't give them a second thought. But still, it distracted me and it irritated me mostly because they took me away from the beautiful narration of the story. I won't go into my review here, rather you can view it at epinions if you're so inclined. I just wanted to comment on the importance of good editing.

My own novel, Circles, has a few editing mishaps, I admit. But as far as I can tell (since no one else has brought it up) they don't distract anyone from the story. And with disclaimer of being biased, I add that I have told a great story! My point here is, as an author, writing is only half the battle. Having a proficient editor is the other half. Then you have the second battle, which is publishing, but I digress. It won't matter if your novel is an expertly-woven piece of storytelling if your editor doesn't catch the spelling, grammar, and continuity flaws that are ever present - especially when in the revision process.

A really good editor will also help a writer make sure that the point is not "too-well hidden" within the text so that the story does not become confusing. I've always been told not to make your point too obvious or it may come across as "preachy" or make the story become predictable. I wonder if children's fiction editors must have a more difficult time or if it's easier because the theme is readily available in the story. How fine a line is it in children's fiction between "too obvious" and "not obvious enough"?

I pose this question to you, readers of my blog: What were your most and least favorite stories and why? Did it also have to do with editing?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Extended Vacation is Now Over

Sorry for the extended vacation, everyone! January has been brutal! Cleaning, taxes, cleaning, writing, cleaning, research, writing, cleaning...hey, anyone with a seven-year-old ball of energy should understand the cleaning part. It's like following the debris line of a tornado.

Anyway, so what can I report? Well for starters, Circles is now available at Parkplace Books in Kirkland. It is an exceptional bookstore, so if you live in the area or plan to be nearby, check it out. It is what I had dreamed my own bookstore would look like...sigh, another drama altogether there.

I have started writing my next novel, which is specifically for middle grade readers. I have alternate history, steampunk, adventure and hijinks planned out. We shall see where it goes. I hope to have it ready for my readers by next January. I'll post excerpts on occasion so you can give me your thoughts!

I will be starting up my "Creative with Writing" classes at Stillwater Elementary and Tolt Middle School in February and March. I'm looking forward to experiencing the spontaneous creativity my students come up with! Every session is amazing. In addition, I am also heading up a book club for fourth and fifth graders at Stillwater. We begin our inaugural club activities with City of Ember (4th gr.) and Leviathan (5th gr.). If anyone has read these titles, I would love to share your thoughts with the club!

Whew! It's hard to find time to write anything with so much going on, but being around readers and writers is so much fun for me. I absolutely MUST make time for these kids! Maybe one day soon, they will have a book club with one of my novels... ^_^

Alright, enough chit-chat for now!